Treaty of Alliance (1778)

Today there is a relatively mutual relationship between France and the United States.  It is popular in some so-called patriotic circles to make snarky comments about France and the French, but the fact is, the United States may not exist today if it had not been for France and the Treaty of Alliance signed during the American Revolutionary War.

The Treaty of Alliance between France and the new United States of America was signed in February of 1778. Essentially, it was an agreement between the two countries to support each other in war against England. This alliance played a key role in countering the vastly superior British Royal Navy, taking away a key advantage the British maintained over American freedom fighters.

A Natural Alliance

It is not difficult to understand why France was motivated to support the 13 American colonies in their attempt to overthrow their mother country, Great Britain. France and England had been at various stages of war, on and off, for centuries.

Also, France had recently suffered a stinging defeat in the French and Indian Wars (1754-1763), an event which caused them to lose much of their influence in the Americas. Losing the French and Indian War (also known as the Seven Years War) shifted the balance of power in Europe dangerously toward Great Britain – so much so that France was contemplating and alliance with Spain for an outright invasion of England to regain French power and advantage.

However, the outbreak of the American War of Independence produced another opportunity for France to strike a blow against its bitter enemy.

The Key Role of Benjamin Franklin

Perhaps the person who was most influential in getting the Treaty of Alliance signed was none other than Benjamin Franklin, the American genius, statesman, scientist and diplomat. Franklin enjoyed “rock-star” status along the French political and aristocratic elite. Franklin’s experiments with electricity made him world famous, but he also possessed extreme charisma, charming the French, and influencing their view of world politics.

The Treaty of Alliance was originally drafted by John Adams, the future second President of the United States. Adams’ version of the document originally established only commercial trade relationships with France, but included no military support. It was the persistent and clever work of Ben Franklin, who was living in Paris, and other American diplomats that eventually lead to a two-way military alliance.

The Treaty of Alliance was made more attractive to the French when it became an agreement of mutual support in war against England – requiring the United States to join France in any future wars against England.

Far-Reaching Consequences

The Treaty of Alliance had far-reaching consequences. It meant that France officially recognized the United States as an independent nation. It also meant that Spain entered the war effort on the side of the Americans. It meant that France, Spain and the Dutch would help supply America with arms, clothing, and gunpowder – everything it needed to keep its war effort moving forward.

Perhaps most of all, it greatly reduced the power of the mighty British navy by countering and distracting it with French, Spanish, and Dutch naval power.

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